Erin Thomas / Artist, Designer, Photographer
Erin (Duquette) Thomas has shown her canvas paintings, pastels and mixed media originals in several solo and group gallery shows across the Northeast for more than two decades, her original works are held in private collections both locally and around the globe. Thomas has always worked and operated or managed creative and art-based small businesses in the Seacoast through consulting, curation and management until more recently taking a more active role in her community by leading several art initiatives to create a more vibrant arts and culture scene that is driven by the artists themselves. Thomas founded the BAA (Berwick Art Association) and a popular blog and art research group, Modspoke. Thomas is also an active photographer, and responds to local fire and first response scenes to document the on-call and volunteer fire services in her community and surrounding neighborhoods.
The outlook for arts and culture in the Northeast has been on the grim side over the last decade. That's not to say there are not winning combinations in art and exemplary creative businesses present, but with grave disregard for the artists themselves coming from community arts organizations, larger businesses and politicians, the true and deep value of creative expression has become lost in translation by the time it reaches the public at large. This does both the artist and the public a huge disservice.
This new way of exploiting the word "arts" by larger public and non-profit organizations to create commerce for administrators, marketers and politicians is effectively contributing to a vapid art culture that is damaging the market for the artists and original musicians that need it to survive. It puts itself on the forefront as an authority (even if inadvertently). Positioned as an “expert” in the industry, and with strong financial backing, it then reaches the masses quicker than even the most savvy individual artist can on their best day. During this down economy, when everyone can now be considered an artist via social media, art and music is now viewed as a non-necessity product in most budgets. As these organizations misrepresent the quality and creativity in the art market, it's stifling the artist community with cultural appropriation, be it blatantly with White people performing African-themed dance on top of an African burial site or through casual theft of another's original idea.
Sales of original works, commissions and opportunities to earn within the economy have been disappearing for many artists, and in turn so has the hope and confidence that is needed to take up creative exploration to share within a community as a beacon of soul, hope and love. Many artists are feeling massive guilt and shame about their talent, sometimes beyond repair, because of the pressure to force themselves into financially viable roles that appease mainstream trends or put food on their tables.
Independent creative backing seems to have slipped into oblivion, and this is exactly when the public organizations and non-profits should be stepping up to the plate and propping up our best and brightest talent with support, as well as spending the time and money it takes to actually identify those individuals. It appears as though the opposite has taken place and the non-profit or community organization is utilizing monies to either start businesses under an "arts" umbrella, or placing money in the hands of administrators that expertly fund-raise and network. There is a growing movement of "arts" organizations ignoring the very thing they claim namesake of, and it's become hard to ignore.
One of the biggest reasons I was attracted to the Seacoast in the mid-nineties was the art scene, and the artists...the button factory was thriving and exciting with innovative projects and artists that mentored younger artists, there were creative job opportunities in art supply, custom framing, printing and design, gallery and furniture industries, and the public was supporting the artists in any way they could, and the artists were propping up each other with mentorships and paid studio gigs. You could see a really great band at the Elvis Room for a few bucks, visit an open studio or an innovative creative business start-up, and Maine had a 1% for art program.... a program that really meant that 1% of the state spending went to a Maine artist, unlike the current program that is called "1% for art", but does not operate as State law as it once did. I ended up buying land in Maine, partly because of the 1% program, it gave me a ground floor opportunity to be included in a pool of other talented artists that I would compete against.....competition is healthy and necessary for an artist to focus their goals. I can hold my own in image creation and art, but I can't compete well in the grant and administration roles because I have focused all my attention on the creation of the art itself. I am terrible at most board meetings, grant scripts and financial data sheets and even teaching, therefore, I am not considered viable in "the arts" industry at this time.
This turn has created a format where politicians, administration experts, board volunteers and marketing professionals now operate cultural organizations, often with no educated curation beyond a basic understanding of what art is. There is a blatant disregard of the needs of the artists and musicians themselves, and there is rampant theft of ideas. If you openly discuss your concerns, you are told that you are showing dissent that will hurt funding. They are acting as art and culture authorities when their talents really lay elsewhere.
I see their talents as valuable, filling a void that is needed from the artists, but yet, they are not seeing our skills as artists as valuable in return, except to snatch ideas from, or borrow a figurehead image from. This is deeply concerning to me on a large scale, although I do not know how to fix it. It breaks my heart that I personally know some of the most talented people in the industry, and they are not even close to finding support for what they do, some are like me, too overwhelmed being mediocre at a minimum wage day job while dreaming of bigger opportunities for what they've spent twenty years preparing for, or, they are bringing in pennies by producing some kind of commercially acceptable watered down version of their art, or they are working on the backs of family or loved ones. Mentorships and opportunities to partner with experienced artists is one of the most important ways an artist can grow and learn, but if an artist doesn't have a studio to begin with, they can't bring in a younger artist to learn. Competition in front of peers and expert curators is needed, and knowledge of the creation process is essential to grow as an artist, and the opportunity for the public to see the talent that our communities offer is ESSENTIAL to the growth of the artists. The public is currently unaware of the selection of art and music offered, and instead they are getting "cultural programming" selected by a small group of curators.
Arts Industry Alliance and their TEAM initiative is one of only a few organizations that I have felt I can get behind. The mentorships and peer to peer exchanges that have been taking place are beyond amazing and inspiring, and the advisors and Director Scott Ruffner are actually LISTENING to what artists need, and applying it to a growing and organic public dialogue and business model that is defined by what artists are asking of it. Ruffner has been speaking on behalf of a large cross section of artists and putting himself in the line of fire on our behalf. He takes the hits for us every time he speaks up. AIA as a group is also doing the ballsy dirty business of both calling out the institutions that are making questionable decisions, while promoting and propping up the entities that are doing it right and keeping the talent pool moving forward with strength and dignity. I have been honored to be a part of AIA over the last couple years, as they take my opinion, stresses and experience with total seriousness, and they have connected me with the work and mentorships that I need to keep me on the right track to maintain a career as an artist. I can't be more impressed with the willingness to put themselves out there for the greater good of the art scene itself. Bravo AIA & TEAM, you haven't let me down.
In New Hampshire we often hear about the dilemmas facing both contemporary artists and contemporary venues, that there’s simply not enough of either to sustain a viable scene in the land of sailboat paintings and folk music. The upcoming show featuring the original work of Seacoast-based painter Brian Cartier finds artist and venue converging in perfect timing at the recently opened Cabonnay in downtown Manchester. The solo exhibit is titled “ensō”, inspired by the Zen symbol that represents a moment when the mind is free to let the body create, the circle being incomplete allows for advancement and the perfection of all things. Cartier recently offered further explanation, “I find myself drawn to the symbol, I feel a connection and relevance given the diversity of the work in the show. The various pieces are collectively representative of my own freedom to create, with an open and free mind.”
The spaciousness of the venue will cater perfectly to the range of Cartier’s work, with different styles in each room of the restaurant, showcasing pieces from his collections “Abstractionary”, “Raptivated”, “Dragonfish” and an entirely new series using old maps & layering techniques as well as other mixed-media. Cabonnay is custom 9,000 square foot multi-level dining experience located in the heart of Manchester. Guests are welcomed in a modern state-of-the-art building with a light-filled luxurious urban contemporary feel. They offer several dining rooms, an art gallery integrated throughout the space, an airy rooftop garden and patio, and a wine-country lifestyle retail emporium.
Cartier sees this show as not only an expansion of his solo reach in New Hampshire, but also a positive step for the larger independent artist and musician movement he has been helping to build through his connection to the Arts Industry Alliance non-profit organization. He describes a need to connect homegrown talent throughout the different regions of the state to create a more cohesive and sustainable arts community and economy similar to the local food and craft beer movements, “New Hampshire is home to many artists and musicians who have national or international appeal, who have toured and have clients and exhibitions all over the country and beyond. The mission of Arts Industry Alliance is to give the working artist community more control and a louder voice in their own scene. There are many paying opportunities that could be provided to local talent, that are instead offered to artists outside of New England. There is just so much more that could be done here.”
The show opens on Friday, November 17th, with a reception from 5-10pm. There will also be a featured live performance from critically-acclaimed soul music artist Qwill, who will be showcasing his original compositions on grand piano starting at 7:30pm. Cabonnay is located at 55 Bridge Street in Manchester.
For more information visit:
An article was recently published in the Exeter Newsletter about the Exeter Selectmen voting to not reappoint Scott Ruffner, Executive Director of Arts Industry Alliance and TEAM, to the volunteer town Arts Committee. This also resulted in the resignation of two other members of the committee, Sharon Marston and Marissa Vitolo. The decision was met with a great deal of push back and questioning from Exeter citizens, with only Selectmen members Don Clement and Anne Surman offering explanations that they were doing what was “best for the town”. Some of the parties involved wanted to take the opportunity to give the community further background into the situation, and what goes on behind the scenes on these types of committees. Marissa Vitolo, artist and committee member of 5 years, had this to offer.
James Duprie, Producer of The Pine Street Players in Exeter, became involved in the situation when he learned that some people in town were interested in importing a theater group from outside the community. Pine Street Players is run out of the Christ Church, and was fairly new and just gaining momentum, and Duprie had concerns with the impact of an outside competitor. He started attending some committee meetings to get a better idea of what was happening behind the scenes.
“The current arts committee leadership has made it very clear that they are more interested in retaining power than actually expanding the Exeter arts scene. At one of the meetings, when a motion was made for nominations and an open election, the acting chair boldly announced that she would not be stepping down under any circumstance. It’s unfortunate that Scott's efforts to expand the local Exeter art scene is being obstructed by a small group of people that refuse to simply get out of his way and let him continue the amazing work he's been doing.”
Original Article in the Exeter Newsletter
Link to original article online: http://www.seacoastonline.com/news/20170427/local-arts-advocate-ousted-from-exeter-arts-committee
Open Forum Discussion With Exeter Newsletter
In the wake of the original article in the Exeter Newsletter, an open forum interview and conversation occurred between reporter Hadley Barndollar, editor of the paper Buzz Dietterle, the three exiting members of the committee (Scott Ruffner, Sharon Marston, Marissa Vitolo), and five other local artists who all had applications submitted to join (Steven Delong, David Drouin, Ellie Willis, Bruce Jones, Lorenzo Vigil, Chad Verbeck). All of them are either full or part time professional painters, photographers, musicians, or actors, ranging in ages from 26 to 60, who were willing to join the committee to further the arts scene in Exeter and help expand use of its public spaces. Many of them submitted applications as far back as October, but only heard from the town after Ruffner, Marston and Vitolo exited. All have decided to remove their applications from the committee, but will work together to keep a very close eye on its direction and if the group will be open to expanded use of the gallery space by outside organizations and active artists, musicians and performers living in town. They see two of the potential future members as having obvious conflicts of interest.
The three remaining applicants, Darius Thompson, John Moynihan, and Irene Graham Hall are all non artists. Thompson is the husband of the current acting chair Kathy Lewis Thompson, and both are vocal supporters of selectmen Don Clement and Anne Surman. Moynihan is the former Operations Manager at Prescott Park Arts Festival and current administrator at the Firehouse Center for the Arts in Newburyport. The panel describes this situation as the classic scenario they have been facing in the Seacoast "arts" community. with power-hungry volunteers and political agendas on one side, and professional non-profit administrators on the other. They see both as a detriment to a naturally occurring organic art scene that reflects and benefits the community and the artists who live in it.
Stream the full audio below.
Exeter Arts Committee Applications
I find that one of the biggest challenges to running an independent venue is getting people to see that one of our primary offerings - music - is a commodity that is worth paying money for. Food, beer, and liquor aren't tough sells, but for some reason, the ticket prices for our shows are hard for some of our clientele to swallow. I think there's this sense that people will only pay for music if they are going to a concert at a large stadium venue, or a listening room. Because we are a combination of restaurant, bar, and music venue, there's a murky grey area where people don't necessarily understand that we are also trying to support and offer up local and touring artists. These artists aren't just playing for fun, but oftentimes trying to make a living at their craft. At least 85% of all of our income from ticket sales goes directly to the bands, with the other portion simply covering the costs of employing a full-time sound engineer, maintaining our sound system, and upgrading our equipment as technology changes so quickly. Many times, too, we pay musicians out of pocket to have free shows, so that people don't have to pay for their entertainment. There's a misconception that our venue pockets all of the money we collect from ticket sales, along with our food and drink sales, and that couldn't be further from the truth.
Another challenge we bump up against is a lack of understanding from your average person about what it takes to run a bar and music club. A lot of people think it's fun and games, a "dream" job, and they forget that it is a business that requires a lot of up-front and ongoing costs. They come in and see a packed room, and assume that we are turning a huge profit, and then wonder why we charge so much for a beer. But when you add in multiple insurances, twice-yearly inspections, annual music licensing fees, and the regular costs of maintaining a historic building that was constructed almost 200 years ago, you're really not seeing the profits that people envision, and you have to price your products up just to open the door each day.
Back before certain codes and standards, The Stone Church's capacity was 220 people, which allowed us to book larger bands. Now, our capacity stands at 99, which means we either have to take a big chance on large guarantees to book nationally-touring bands, outsource the booking to other production companies who will take that risk for us, or just try to exist with bands that don't look at a 99 capacity and shake their heads "no". With venues that hold a couple hundred people close by- 3s in Portsmouth, Tupelo in Londonderry, The Bull Run in Shirley, MA- we really can't stay competitive. In order to bump our capacity back up, we would need to install a comprehensive sprinkler system, which clearly costs a whole lot of money. This is a huge challenge, because the things that could make us bigger and better are too large of an investment.
Moreover, we have a beautiful, historic attic with many old features, and even an old stage, that is in dire need of renovation. If I won the lottery, I would definitely renovate that portion of the building to serve as balcony seating so that we could increased our capacity and restore some of the unique character of the building.
And one more thing about the codes... When The Stone Church became a music club in 1969, it was not necessary to serve food in order to obtain a liquor license, but that has changed over time. Our kitchen is a throwback to some time before that change, as we could certainly use an expansion.
One final challenge is that craft beer has suddenly become exceedingly trendy over the last few years, along with old-time cocktails, infusions, and so on. Before this became a trend, we were serving 14 craft/microbrews on draft, and that made us stand out to people. Now, every new bar that is cropping up is specializing in craft beer- either their own, or those carried by the state of NH- and there's a been of one-up-man-ship when it comes to the creation of cocktails. The bar is being continuously raised, to the point where we have joked about becoming a place that serves Schlitz and other vintage types of cheap beer just in order to differentiate ourselves!
One thing that has become better over time is that the idea of a music club is no longer restricted to just people who are 21+, who want to come and see music and drink. Because we put a premium on providing a variety of high-quality music, and we offer it at other times of the day- Sunday afternoon/early evening, for example- we have been able to attract families and their children. So, by not funneling our clientele into one demographic, we have been able to reach more types of people, which in turn has made us become more creative with our programming and musical offerings.
The Exeter Arts & Music Fest will be held on May 20th, 2017 in Swasey Parkway along the river in downtown Exeter. Click below to download the Artist Application form.
Arts Industry Alliance and The Green Alliance present a celebration of homegrown art and music showcasing original talent on the Seacoast, featuring a CD listening party for the latest TVP Records release "Groove Lounge x Bria Ansara", art exhibit from Brian Cartier & B. Cartier • Artist Studio , unplugged stage performance from New England Music Award winner Cold Engines, and live music in the lounge from critically-acclaimed recording artist Qwill.
Focus will be on continuing the momentum toward a more sustainable and community-based arts industry on the Seacoast.
6:00 Qwill live Performance in the Lounge
6:45 Cold Engines Showcase Set on the Stage
7:15 Groove Lounge x Bria Ansara CD Full Spin
7:45 Cold Engines Showcase Set 2
8:15 Qwill Live Performance in the Lounge
Tickets are $10 and available for purchase online or at the door :
Seacoast Rep has generously donated use of their entire space for this event, and both AIA and GA would like to thank them for their continued support of local artists and performers in the community.
Sponsored by Edge Streaming Radio and Vanity Hair Salon.
The second annual TEAM Harvest Fest is back at the Bungalow Grove on
Saturday, October 15th !
**** Local Music, Local Food, Local Art ****
This is a fundraising event for the Team / Town Exeter Arts Music initiative which organizes, cultivates and promotes arts and music events in the community, and supports working and aspiring artists and musicians in the region.
Groove Lounge 12-2pm
Food and drinks from:
3 Brothers Marketplace
Laney & Lu Cafe
Blue Moon Evolution
D Squared Java
Kids activities, art vendors, lawn games !
Raffle featuring gift cards from local businesses
$10 suggested donation
Thank you to our generous sponsors : Exeter Arts Committee, The Green Alliance, Ruffner Real Estate LLC
Thank you to the The Bungalow Club for their support and donating the use of their space at 9 Franklin Street in downtown Exeter, located directly behind Blue Moon Evolution Restaurant.